MEMPHIS – The death toll rose to 26 and more dangerous weather was forecast for a wide swath of the South and Midwest already in ruins Sunday from a surge of storms that fueled confirmed or suspected tornadoes in at least eight states.
The dead included at least nine in McNairy County, Tennessee, about 100 miles east of Memphis. Four of the fatalities were in the same building – one of at least 72 totally destroyed across the county, Mayor Larry Smith said.
Four deaths were reported in the Wynne, Arkansas, three in Sullivan, Indiana. Fatalities were also reported in Illinois, Alabama, Mississippi and another in Arkansas.
Almost 400,000 homes and businesses were in the dark in a dozen southern and eastern states Sunday as strong winds and storms toppled trees, downed powerlines and converted anything left outdoors into dangerous projectiles.
One tornado at the center of the destruction in Arkansas drew stunning preliminary data from the National Weather Service – an EF-3 with winds of up to 165 mph, 30 miles long and 1.3 miles wide.
There was no rest for the weary: Severe thunderstorms and flash flooding were possible Sunday across parts of the southern Plains and Lower Mississippi Valley, the National Weather Service warned.
“Unfortunately more severe weather is possible in the coming days,” the weather service office in Little Rock said. A strong storm system will approach the area from the west and thunderstorms are expected to develop some time Tuesday though Wednesday morning.
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STORMS KILL NINE IN TENNESSEE COUNTY:72 homes were destroyed
►In Crawford County, Illinois, three people were killed and eight injured when a tornado hit around New Hebron, authoriess said. Sheriff Bill Rutan said up to 100 families were displaced.
►A street sign from west Little Rock swept up in a tornado was found about 13 miles away in the town of Sherwood, KATV-TV reported.
Three storm cells hit McNairy County on Friday night, taking almost exactly the same path, causing damage to 35%-40% of the county, authorities said. The majority of the damage was to homes and residential areas, Adamsville Mayor David Leckner said.
Gov. Bill Lee drove to the county Saturday to tour the destruction and comfort residents. He said the storm capped the “worst” week of his time as governor, coming days after a school shooting in Nashville that killed six people including a family friend.
“This is a tragic, tragic loss for this community, this county, the state,” Lee said said in Adamsville. “It comes on the heels of tragedy already. It’s been a very difficult week for our state, but it looks like your community has done what Tennesseans do, and that is rally and surround one another and respond.”
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Lee stopped and spoke with Jeffrey Day, who stood outside his daughter’s home, looking at baby clothes strewn around what was once the front porch. The clothes had previously been stored in the attic, but Saturday the attic was almost completely gone.
Day told Lee that he is grateful his family made it through the night, even if their home is damaged. Day said he was five miles away on the phone with his daughter, Justina Martin, when the storm hit. She was in the home’s walk-in closet using her body to cover one of her two sons when she felt a suction sensation, she told him.
“When I heard her on the phone, it was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to listen to,” Day said.
In Wynne, Arkansas, 28 people sought medical treatment at a local hospital after Friday’s twister. The roof was torn off Wynne High School and windows were blown out. Homes and businesses were battered across the community of 8,000 people, 50 miles west of Memphis.
Ashley Macmillan said she, her husband and their children huddled with their dogs in a small bathroom as a tornado passed, “praying and saying goodbye to each other, because we thought we were dead.” A falling tree seriously damaged their home, but they were unhurt.
“We could feel the house shaking, we could hear loud noises, dishes rattling. And then it just got calm,” she said.
More than 50 people were injured in a tornado that ripped through Little Rock on Friday, Mayor Frank Scott said. More than 2,600 homes, businesses and other structures were damaged by the storms, he said. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will tour Little Rock and Wynne on Sunday, Scott announced hours before the planned visit, saying he looked forward to welcoming her some of the city’s most damaged sites.
“A catastrophic storm tore through our neighborhoods, injuring dozens and damaging thousands of structures,” he said. “It was a heartbreaking day for our community, but we are exceedingly grateful there is no reported loss of life.”
Contributing: The Associated Press